Grain of Grammar: Prepositions!

a grain of grammar 5


Here is some advice from ECLA’s Academic Director of Studies, Melanie!


Language corner:  Preposition secrets part I


Many English language students find it difficult to learn how to use English prepositions correctly. On the one hand, it’s true that some rules for prepositions are easy.  For example, prepositions of time (“I was born on Christmas Day,”  “I will see you at 3pm”) have very easy rules to follow. Prepositions of space and movement (“The plane flew over the school,”  “I put the keys on the table”) are also easy to memorize. But why do we say “I’m interested in politics”?  Or “I’m looking at you?”


I’m going to share a few secrets with you that should help you with prepositions. Unfortunately, my first secret is some bad news.


You already know that using prepositions are difficult to learn. But guess what?  Prepositions are also difficult to teach!  Why?  Because the rules for prepositions are not always clear! (As I described above!)

Now for the good news, and my second secret. Although prepositions are difficult to use 100% correctly, they are also one of the easiest things to make mistakes with and still be understood.




For example, imagine that you are in class on Monday, and your teacher wants to know what you did on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Does she ask you:

A) “What did you do in the weekend?”


B) “What did you do at the weekend?”


The answer is B).  But is it important to know that? The question is still clear, isn’t it?


Now I have some advice to help you improve your preposition use.


*** My first tip is to try to learn prepositions the way native speakers learn them.  Native speakers learn a word AND the preposition it takes at the same time.  So when you learn a new verb or adjective, find out what preposition it takes and learn that, too.

For example, don’t learn “to look forward.”  Learn “to look forward TO.”

Don’t try to remember “I am interested.”  Try to remember “I am interested IN..” 


*** My second tip is that words with similar or opposite meanings often take the same preposition.  For example “I am good AT math” and “I am bad AT English.”

Another example is “the beginning OF the book” and “the start OF the race.”


So if you’re not sure which preposition to use, consider whether you know the preposition for a word with a similar or opposite meaning. You may not always be right, but it’s a good guess.


I will be back with a few more secrets in part 2!


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